Monday, November 30, 2009

Going back to work

And I could not be happier.

Ok. Maybe I could be if I won the Lottery. Or if Joseph won the lottery.

Ok. Maybe if JJ was fluent in English.

That would all make me happier. But given that's not happening? I couldn't be happier.

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Second First Week

Well, we have another week of First Things.

Last Saturday, JJ had his First Play Date. Our dear friends Yongmei and Richard offered to meet us for lunch at JoJo Tapei and then take JJ to the Children's Museum along with her son Niles (JJ's First Friend, although JJ doesn't know it yet) and Selena (Niles' mei mei - aka little sister). It was a very nice family lunch and Joe and I got to try a new restaurant. You know a place is pretty close to authentic if 80% of the clientele is Chinese!

On Sunday, we had another First. The First Playground Play Date. We met up with the Lost Family from the China trip. They leave a few blocks from us so we met at their place, then walked to one of the many wonderful Brookline playgrounds and the fun ensued. Ok. So. JJ will never be a batter or a pitcher. Forget baseball. Ahem. But he's awesome at sliding down slides in all manner of contortions along with 4 other boys. Good grief! I never saw such a thing. Up the tube, down the tube, on the outside of the tube, inside the tube ... at the same time and in opposite directions. All I have to say is "it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye...". Thankfully, everyone's eyes were intact.

Then onto JJ's First Birthday Party of our dear friend Jane's who turned 50. And there, JJ had his First Birthday Cake! Not sure how he liked it. Didn't seem too terribly enthused but he ate the whole piece.

Monday was JJ's First Field Trip with his class to the Boston Skywalk at the Pru. Don't really know how he liked it since I couldn't ask and he could say.

And then we had JJ's First School Bus Ride. Man. Were they off schedule!! The mentioned 7:30 am pick up was more like 7:37am. I rode the bus to school with him and went for a run from there. 4.1 miles felt great. Then in the afternoon, I walked to the school and got on the bus and rode it home. Interestingly, I thought the bus would be late for it's 2:40 pick up time. Especially since I passed it on my way to JJ's school. It was waiting at the Devotion School up the street from us. But it arrived right on time!

So, the bus was supposed to let us off at Devotion around 3:00. I had told Ms Chen to meet us at 2:50. Boy was I wrong. It was more like 3:15. We made 3 stops before we got there, all on the other side of Brookline! And then onto a fourth stop that was in another different area! ARG!!! This really cuts into JJ's homework time. Serious homework time! It seemed they were dropping kids off right around their homes. For crying out loud!!!

Ok. We survived the bus. JJ was major-league bored. Of course not having someone explain to him what's happening probably made it worse for him.

And on Tuesday, JJ rode the bus alone. He rode it to school and from school and Ms Chen met him at the bus stop. He is also more willingly doing homework. Positive reinforcement and a constant reminder from his Mama on why he needs to learn English seems to be working.

Tuesday afternoon, JJ brought home his First Project. He brought home Happy Thanksgiving cards he had made for me and Joseph. Mine said "thank you for taking good care of me" and under the English were the Chinese characters that said the same thing. Joseph's said something about talking to him every night. I assume that Ms Tang, the ELL teacher, helped him with the translation but it was all in his own handwriting. Even Ms Chen was touched.

Wednesday Morning, we experienced the First Third Grade Event - a breakfast for students, teachers, parents, etc etc etc. I had made banana bread the night before but it broke. GAH! So I made apple bread and promptly forgot the butter. It turned out surprisingly good! So I'm leaving butter out from now on. Less caloric! And afterwards, I went over to collect the carcass and it was gone. Not a single crumb was left! Anyway, we met some parents and JJ's teacher sat with us. He is still wandering around the classroom. I was a bit annoyed because it's not just about JJ. It's about disruption to the class! We are going to have a discussion about how it's not all about him, yes I know he is bored, well, maybe he wouldn't be if he would practice his English, blah blah blah general-nagging-mama-stuff...

We did have this discussion before. So I guess we need repetition. So while she was talking, I got annoyed. And I looked to see him staring at me, charting the course of the conversation through my face and he knew I wasn't happy. Interesting. So after, I told him that he cannot walk or wander in class when the teacher is talking or when kids are doing a group project etc. And when he got home after school, he proudly told me how he "listened to the teacher, didn't walk around, wander or roam!" I was so proud!

Wednesday afternoon, we took the First Long Car Ride to the Mountains. We went to the Berkshires to spend Thanksgiving with Ye Ye and Nai Nai. JJ sat in the back with the Dingle Doggie. LOL. It was truly uneventful until the dog decided to stretch out across the back seat. And of course, on top of JJ! LOLOL!

Thursday was the First Thanksgiving. It was filled with lots o' food, lots o' family, lots o' fun, and of course, the First Cough and First Sore Throat followed by the First Cold. I was glad it wasn't the First Flu or the First H1N1. That would have been very bad. I don't know about you but sometimes too much food, family, and fun equals a lot of stress! It was also the first time JJ had no Asian food or noodles in 5 or more days. I don't know if it was the cold or too much unfamiliar food, but we also had the First Refusal to Eat which led to the First Desire to Go To Bed Really Early. Especially since it was shower night and he wanted to. Must have been sick.

Anyway, we arrived home Sunday. We told him Saturday we were going home "tomorrow" and he seemed happy about that. He asked me again, "tomorrow, go home?" I said yes. And he smiled and said it again.

So that was it. He is still learning his ABC's and is vocalizing more English on his own.

Joe's mom is great. She gave me advice on learning to read books and how to keep it simple for him. She is also a great observer and she's given me a lot of insights into how he is doing. One thing she said was he may not want to say a word in English because he knows it's not perfect. I've been correcting his speech. But based on that info, I'll correct him less and only when I don't understand what he's saying.

And of course Joe's dad and JJ just get along great. Just like 2 peas on a pod. I can't even describe it.

Oh. On Thanksgiving morning, Joe, his sister Judy and I ran a race. JJ and Ye Ye came out to watch and support. And I guess that is JJ's First Race Spectating Event.

I thought that was worth mentioning. :o))

Onto the First Race, First Christmas and First New Years.

Talk to you in a few weeks.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Empty Rest Stop

One of the saddest sights on a highway is a rest stop without a MacDonalds or a Burger King.

Because it means there is absolutely no ability to get french fries.

I mean... An empty rest stop.
What's the point?

So sad.

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Stress and breakdown

So much to do before going to the mountains!!!!

Freak out!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Already late!

Ugh.
I hate it when you're already late and someone stops you to ask for directions!

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Monday, November 23, 2009

What's worse than spilling water?

On your laptop?
Soy sauce.
With wasabi.

Yah.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

The First Week

We are moving along the "First List.". The good news is that the First Thanksgiving and the First Christmas will be lumped in early with the First Month. HAH! The bad news is that we have the First Month, the First "other holidays", the First Birthday, the First Quarter, the First Half Year, the First Year, and the First Day of School...etc etc etc. Ok. You get the picture! LOL!

Ms Chen the Nanny started on Monday afternoon. Ok. Can we talk about Asians and DOGS? Our dog is on the large side. I have seen grown men cross the street to avoid her. Little do they know that all Cass wants to do is sniff you and then ignore you. Of course, you do have to get over the fact that the first time she meets you, she comes up running, barking and snarling like she's going to tear you from limb to limb. Hmmm. Ok. She pretty much does that every time she sees you. And it can last for years. All I gotta to say is "poor Ms Chen." LOL. Took about 10 minutes for everyone to calm down. I did warn her that Cass will pretty much bark every time she comes over. LOL.

Anyway, Ms Chen started and I have to say, "thank God for Ms. Chen." She is a PhD University professor from Beijing who is here with her husband, who is getting a post doc at MIT. The minute she came in JJ started talking and pretty much didn't stop until she left. Ok. He pretty much talks from the time he gets up until the time he goes to bed in general but while she was here, he sped up. He must have been starved for conversation. Imagine being plopped into a strange place where no one looks like you, nothing looks like your home, and no one can understand you. I think it was a good outlet for him and I knew the first hour in that it is worth every penny to bring her in. His language will advance by talking to her in Chinese. As opposed to his Mama who talks in short idiotic sentences that isn't even par with a 1st grader. I also got a bit of a mental reprieve and managed to go to the store, finish up some phone calls, etc.

JJ took this opportunity to ask me questions. He had Ms Chen write them down and he marked them off as I answered. He asked a lot of questions about school. Do they have chess class, basketball class, ping pong class, gym class, etc... He asked about the "curriculum.". Seriously. That's the word he used in Chinese. Hmmm.

He kept saying he should go into the first level. Finally, we pulled it out of him that he thinks he belongs there because he doesn't know English.

When we ask a question, sometimes he says he doesn't know. So Ms Chen and I looked at each other with the "well, that is not acceptable" look. So she told him if he knows the answer, he must say it. If he doesn't know the answer, then he must ask. It could be that it's too hard for him to communicate.

He asked about going to a place to pick veggies and fruits (a farm). Next year. Check.

How about "wet mud?" Can he get some? Uhhh... Clay?? Eureka! Yes but it's play dough. It's not like we have a pottery shed out back. Ok. Check.

How about watching cartoon movies like Calabash Baby? Uhhh... No. Of course I was informed we can watch it from the internet. Sigh. Ok. Maybe. Check.

How about bubble sugar? Huh?? Oh. Bubble gum. Uh... He had never had bubble gum and would like to try it. Hmmm... maybe it will help strengthen his jaw. Ok. Maybe. If you are good. Check.

And a couple of other things I said "no" to. LOL.

Tuesday we went to the Pierce School for ELL testing. This is the first thing required before we can enroll JJ in school. Brookline schools are wonderful. Basically, Brookline is an education-centric town. All teachers and aids must have a masters degree. At first, we thought he would be going to Devotion which is in our district and 3 blocks away. No. Ms Tang (the ELL teacher) had different ideas. Each of the five elementary schools has a nationality. Devotion is the Hebrew School. Pierce is the Chinese School. There is also a Russian School, a Korean school and two Japanese schools. Two. For Japanese. Huh.

Each school has an ELL program - goes to show what the student population is like around here. But each school is geared toward a certain population. Ms Tang said something about how she could help him with homework if he went to Pierce but Devotion doesn't have Mandarin speaking teachers so they can't. Hmm. Ok. And her recommendation was to send him to Pierce. Hmmm. And there is a bus for ELL students. Really! A BUS?? Oh! Well.... So it's ben five minutes, what is your decision? Oh. Well, it guess it's Pierce! Why do we all cower in front of teachers? Must be early training when we were kids.

Anyway, the bus is a lifesaver. It picks him up in front of Devotion and drops him off every day.

He will be taking ELL classes twice a day until he reaches a certain level of proficiency. Then they go to once a day, then weekly, etc, until he is fluent. The range of time is 1-3 years with some taking longer but the average is 2-3 years. After that point he can't take the bus. They kick him off! LOL. And we can move him to Devotion. But he will be in the 6th or 7th grade so we'll see what happens. I would hate to move him away from his friends but...

JJ met his teacher, the guidance counselor, the nurse, and he saw the classroom, the cafeteria. And he also met some ELL students from China who could speak English really well. He is so excited about going to school.

The Guidance counselor is responsible for JJ's educational health and welfare. She will make sure that he gets total coordinated services geared toward enabling his learning. When he is ready for speech therapy, she will get the special ed teacher involved, etc. And it was decided to wait on speech therapy until all his medical evals and procedures are done and he learns English.

The classroom is open. There are no walls. Classrooms are separated by cubbies and shelves. There were less than 20 desks in JJ's class. It will be interesting how the open concept works for JJ since he is so linearly organized.

And we noticed that he is taller than other 3rd graders and some of the 4th graders we saw in the cafeteria.

So we went shopping for school supplies. And that was that. Now I am on the hunt for chinese workbooks and Math and English Spelling books. And I'd like to get him into a weekly Chinese program. I need to talk to Li Laoshi.

Thursday, JJ started first day of school. Joe and I delivered him and I had a hard time saying good bye. He met a teacher in the classroom next door who teaches 7th grade and Mandarin. Of course she is fluent and talked to JJ for about 10 minutes. He just looked up in awe for a long while but then loosened up. Of course it could be that her blond hair and blue eyes threw him off!

After school, I picked him up along with all the soccer moms. I waited on the sidewalk with a lot of other parents as kids streamed out of the building. He saw me and I saw him, he came running up and just flew into my arms. He was so excited to tell me about the class and the big lunch and how delicious it was and he was so full (3 times) and how he liked school and now he has friends.

We got home and the First Homework Battle took place. I have a sneaking suspicion as to why the orphanage said he is "not student material" or "isn't a 'good' student". He wrote the alphabet the first time through. Gawd! The talking, the distractions - how many times do you re-write the letter "m"?? And then the two or three sentences. So I told him he needed to do the alphabet again, this time faster. Hmm. Didn't seem to like that. I went back to the kitchen to keep cooking dinner while Ms. Chen helped him. I heard a lot of chatter, then quiet and about 20 minutes later I go back in and he is sitting there.

Alrightee... He basically didn't want to do it. And he started crying. Ms Chen pointed it out and I shook my head. We had a brief lecture about why he needs to do this, and more crying. Good grief. I am NOT a crying-child-break-my-heart-let-me-hug-you-and-give-you-what-you-want kinda mom. In fact it downright pisses me off. There will be NO WIMPS IN THIS FAMILY!!! LOL. Not to mention stupid people!! Haha! I think he got the picture. Then Joe walked in from work, took in the situation, and he told JJ to keep writing. He should know that studying is not negotiable. Ever.

And so, JJ did his homework. And there was success, a better looking alphabet, a sense of accomplishment, knowledge that Mama and Baba stand together, and the I am serious when I tell him that "his only job is to be a student" and that I will not cave into histrionics. Ever. After hugs and kisses for a job well-done, I presented him with a "bubble sugar" (bubble gum) for all efforts, something he has never had before in his life. And that caused jubilation and dancing.

I hate to tell him that Mama bought 3rd and 4th grade math practice books and 1st-3rd grade spelling and writing books. I think I'll wait for the weekend! Gotta stock up on bubble sugars! LOL!

So, Friday's homework was better. I picked him up from school and we started right after we got home and Ms Chen arrived. He wrote his assignment. And then he had to say the alphabet at least once. Well, he didn't make it past the letter "e" and got stuck on f, g, h, I, j, l, m, q, u, v, w, y, z. That's a lot. So I told him he had to do it over and over again until he got it right. At first there was some pouting. But this was tangible. He could SEE that he needed to practice so there was less pouting. I told him how this was vital. "If you don't know the alphabet, you can't read. If you can't read, then..." And I gave him a look that said, "it's hopeless if you can't read.". So he started again. He marked the ones he didn't know and kept at it for 2 hours getting down to only 4 letters he didn't know. He did so well and I was so proud! I mean, it's only the second day of learning!

Then Ms Chen started on Chinese homework! Yeah! He definitely needs to keep up his Chinese. I think Ms Chen is getting more relieved with this whole thing as we get into some sort of routine. She is helping him refine his pronunciation as much as possible given his palate and lisp. This is good. I doubt that anyone has ever given him this type of attention so we don't know what he can do. And it will also help exercise his mouth and tongue. I notice that when he forms words, his tongue doesn't hit the back of his teeth I don't this that is a palate issue!

Anyway, I walked Ms Chen to the bus stop where she will be picking him up. She said that she thought he was really really smart. And that he will learn quickly. We both notice he is a perfectionist. This is really good but it can be really bad, too.

Today, we will go over the alphabet again. Kids forget over the weekend! Then we have a play date with his friend Niles that he doesn't know about. We will tell him that it's because he studied his alphabet or hard.

Hey! A parent must use everything we have in our arsenal! LOL!

That's it for the First Week.

Get ready for The First Thanksgiving.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

The First Weekend

Looks like we are gonna have a lot of "firsts."

The First Weekend with JJ is over. And we all survived it intact.

We had a lot of visitors. Joseph's parents stayed over (Thank God!) and left yesterday afternoon. We didn't know how JJ would take the news that Nai Nai and Ye Ye didn't live with us. But we explained right before they left and he took the news well. I thought he was a bit surprised at first, though. Yup, kid. You're stuck with just Mama and Baba. I think the fact that he is a "only" will hit him hard later.

My friend H left yesterday morning. I told her that my calls to her will be shifting from my having a brain tumor to JJ getting Ebola or something. She said she expected that. LOL.

Joseoph's sister Judy, her husband Paul and their son Luke came over for lunch. Caroline (their daughter) was at a school event. Anyway, we had an American cook out with burgers and hot dogs and potato chips. JJ had a hot dog and fell in love with potato chips. Which is great because we're a potato-chip-kinda-family! Judy also finished up the curtains and now JJ's room is complete. Luke made a Lego car for JJ and JJ helped. It was nice to see Luke take JJ in hand and help him out. Luke's comment was that JJ is tall!

[We now pause briefly for this service announcement : "Thank God for Judy."]
Our friend Nicole came to visit as did our friend Jacqui. Nicole came bearing gifts and I understand that JJ got to talk to Jason on the phone. I had to go into work for a few hours so I missed this part. But Joseph said that JJ had a good time with Aunt Nik.

JJ also got a phone call from his First Friend Niles. I looked up at one point and JJ was on the phone. So I ran upstairs to Joseph to find out what was going on and Niles had called. Nai Nai said she handed him the phone and he didn't know what to do! LOL. But he seemed to settle in because they had a long conversation!

After a weekend of American food, we showed JJ the art of Thai Takeout. We called it in, walked up to get it as a family. At dinner, he ate a lot. We got his favorite - noodles (pad thai) - and he even wanted some rice! I bet he thought he was never going to get Chinese (or Asian) food ever again. The difference in food was startling. I never really consciously noticed it before but the Thai food was all veggies. And he LOVED it. I mean, he CHOWED. He patted his belly and kept saying "delicious, delicious." Poor kid. I was worried about his digestion going to an high white-carb American diet with comparatively little veggies after a high fiber veggie diet. We will get him Thai take out regularly or we will make a lot of stir fry.

I hope I lose weight as a result of his healthy eating!

JJ has issues with his jaw and lack of development/strength. It could also be that his teeth are not aligned right. And if you add the fact that he probably ended up getting mostly "softer" foods in China, he has a tough time chewing any piece of meat that is not super softened. Forget about steak! Jeez. I hate to tell him that's one of Mama and Baba's favorite foods! Anyway, I keep saying it. "Lots O' Speech Therapy!". Poor kid. The great news is that he continues to try everything I put on his plate at least once. And he repeats words over and over to try and say them right. And he is very disciplined. If he is full, he stops eating. It doesn't matter how much he likes the food. What a concept! Again, Mama could learn from this! LOL!

JJ continues to teach us Chinese. I find I have to really FOCUS on what he is saying. Last night, he taught me to say "lamb" in Chinese. He asked if we were having lamb for dinner. I told him it was chicken and he seemed very satisfied with that answer. That's good because Mama is allergic and there will never be lamb in this house! LOL.

JJ has an array of toys from all his aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. He is amazingly NOT selfish. Unless we give him a present, he ignores it. There was a gift on the front foyer all weekend (still there) and he hasn't given it a second look. Of course, I am not sure he knows what "present" and "gift wrap" and "gift giving" is all about. I think the whole intense concept of "gift giving" and "all about the child" so openly is not that Asian or Chinese and certainly not at the orphanage most likely.

JJ also talked to our Chinese teacher, Li Laoshi, through Skype. Again, I was at the office so I'm just getting this second hand. He basically said that he has a lot of toys and we can't understand him (or that he can't understand us - Joseph wasn't sure). I think he really needs someone to talk to that he can have free dialog with. It wouldn't be so bad if he were slow and a dullard. But he is smart and quick thinking. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for him to be plopped into a place where no one looks or talks like him. Not to mention not having control of your own destiny. I know all that is not lost on JJ. Anyway, Ms Chen the Nanny is coming this afternoon for much needed talking in Chinese!

JJ also discovered the Pleasure of a Plush Robe, courtesy of his Aunt Abby. Joseph had shower duty last night and Joseph showed him the robe. He put it on and was so excited. He came running downstairs yelling for me, and show me how soft and warm and wonderful it is! OMG. It was hilarious watching him model it!

Joseph also took him to a local half marathon where he saw all the runners. After a while, JJ stood out there slapping the hands of the runners and cheering them on. Joseph also said that when they were driving back in the car, JJ saw the last runners and he was clapping for them in the car!

Speaking of running, he runs everywhere. In the house. Up and down the stairs. On the way to Thai takeout. We watched him from the back. He has a big back kick and these long legs that go forever. He will definitely join the high school cross country team one day! He is made for running.

We basically didn't leave the house much to speak of. As far as JJ knows, America looks like our house, our neighborhood, our cars, and our yard. After visiting the stores in China, we decided that Target was NOT a good introduction to America and that Good Old Fashioned American Consumerism can wait. Especially since he seems to have gotten over the "hand out, gimme money" thing he did in China. So we left him home with Nai Nai and Ye Ye while we picked up clothes for him.

This week he will leave the house to get tested at the school to determine placement.

Joseph and I managed to get out to Joseph's tri team's social event for an hour after Target since it was so close. Much needed social time with adults! I think if we had to, JJ is so well-behaved that we could have brought him with us if we had to.

This week we have a lot of other cleaning up to do - more doctor's appointments, finish JJ's closet, etc.

Ok. That's it for now.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Home at Last...

We are home. Finally. We are so tired.

The flight from Guangzhou to San Francisco was basically a "puddle jumper." The flight attendents barely had time to get drinks out and then we were landing. No, problem, we thought. But then we only had a couple of hours and the gate attendent from Dragon Air in Guangzhou said we would have to check in once we got to Hong Kong even though our bags were checked to San Francisco.

Joseph and I gathered our gear and headed for the transfer desk. Basically, they had to check us in for the remaining two legs to Boston. And then they had to find our bags so they could check out bags to Boston, too. We would be picking them up at San Francisco to take them through customs but then putting them right back on the belt for the next flight home. We had to catch our flight and there was a long line behind us, so they said they would find the bags, and deliver the new baggage claim checks to us on the plain. Uh... Ok. Door to door, hand to hand service? Uh... Hmmm... I was dubious but true to their word, right before the door shut, the guy comes walking up the aisle with all the claim checks. Definitely NOT Logan Airport!

In Hong Kong, we had to go through Security again. It was a LONG line and there were a few hair raising moments.

The flight to San Francisco was not bad for us. JJ just played and then he finally managed to get some sleep. Welcome to jet lag, kid! You will never know what hit you tomorrow. Of course, with my luck, you will not feel a thing and be raring to go tomorrrow! It could have been worse. We didn't have to worry about a feeding schedule since JJ could feed himself, no wetting of the diaper, diaper changes, crying and screaming at take off - like the infants and toddlers in the group. Compared to the other families, our trip was a dream. So easy. And JJ made it so easy for us. What a happy go lucky kid!

We landed in San Francisco and collected our bags and went through customs. At that moment, the officers opened up the sealed packages, stamped an A-number on JJ's passport, and now he was free to travel in an out of the country as a green card alien. But I think it should also let us get him an American passport immediately since he is now considered an instant citizen. We have to apply for a birth certificate locally, and then apply for the passport. I think. Must talk to the Agency about that one. The Consulate had said that the social security card would be sent to us in about 2 months. Good. Get him used to the idea of being a fully taxable citizen! LOL!

JJ wore his Tom Brady jersey from Aunt Judy, Uncle Paul, Cousins Caroline and Luke. Everyone was giving him the high-five and shaking his hand. He was loving all the attention.

The flight from San Francisco to Boston was interesting. This is where we encountered the Nazi Stewardess. Man.... she was a miserable old bitty. It started because there were three of us seated in the back - myself, Joseph and another guy we didn't know flying on businss - who had our Blackberries and she had to yell at us to turn them off. Whatever. You would think she'd forgive and forget. Uh... Noooo... She was a bitty the whole time - yelling at everyone. "No Soup for You." "No Bathroom for you." In fact, at one point, she locked the bathroom and wouldn't let anyone go in. Now, we are all adults. If you have to get up to go to the bathroom, you weigh the risks and you do what you need to. Instead, she insisted on treating us like 2 year olds. And then later, people just ignored her. The other stewardess was nice but you could tell that she was on pins and needles the whole flight because of the old-bitty-ness of the old-bitty. PFFFT!

Regardless, we made it in once piece. There was a fair bit of turbulence from Iowa to Boston - we were flying right below the jet stream. It actually felt like the top of the plane was scraping the bottom of the jet stream instead! It was that rough. And of course, that made the old bitty happier so she could yell at everyone to take cover. Whatever.

We had a lot of carry on luggage so we waited almost until the end to dis-embark. And we made our, finally, comfortable walk to baggage claim. GOOD LORD!!! The people that were there. First, there was Ye Ye... JJ's face lit up when he saw his grandfather. They had been singing songs to each other via Skype every night. Yah. Pretty funny. :o\ And there was instant recognition. And of course, there was Aunt Judy who came in from Plymouth! It was o nice to see her enthusiastic face. And Aunt Amanda and Aunt Jenn. Amanda had stayed at our place to two weeks to take care of the house and the dog and the two cats... and a whole lot of other things, I discovered when I got home. Then up walked Yongmei and Richard and Niles. Niles is JJ's first friend. The first one friend to actually talk to JJ when he was in China and had sent along gifts with us when we left the USA. And Nicole and Jason. Oh my! And Jenn and Andy! They are tall. Like REALLY TALL. JJ just looked up the whole height of both of them, his mouth agape... the first time I've seen him with his mouth open and nothing coming out of it for the last two weeks! LOL! I think Jenn and Andy were the tallest people JJ has probably ever seen! And then Brian and Kara - good grief, they were a huge surprise!! Everyone brought JJ a gift, and hugs, and smiles, and a huge sense of love and family. He was in his element and so excited about it all.

And a shout out to our Agency and the director, Lillian. She was there. She appeared by our sides with smiles and hugs, encouraging words of support, and of course, observation. Her husband was also there. We love her dearly and all the work that she and her team at China Adoption with Love does on behalf of the families and the children. And as quietly as she came, she left. It was so special to see her.

We went home in two cars with all our stuff. And JJ finally met the 70 lb dog and the 20 kitty.

More surprises were there for us. Amanda had cleaned the house. Ummm. Actually, she had cleaned the kitchen. And my refrigerator. I have never seen it so, ummm... empty. And so clean! LOL! And it was refilled. With food! Not just spices and leftovers!

Judy had brought muffins and fruit and plates and food!! Oh. And there was beer in the fridge downstairs. So happy!

The biggest surprise was JJ's room. Ok. Call me a bad mommy but uh... I had done nothing about his room. I figured we would come home and buy stuff. Of course I didn't think about WHEN I would be able to do that. But I thought, it has a bed and a dresser. Good enough. But Judy had different ideas. The whole room was decorated. With rugs and matching spreads, and toys and all manner of things. GOOD GRIEF! Judy puts into action what I am thinking without me having to say it out loud. One less thing to worry about and I am soooo grateful. If JJ knew better, he'd be so relieved too because he'd probably have to live with paper shades for another month or two. Ok. Maybe another year. Until Daddy got tired of them.

Then we slept. And we woke up and a new day dawned.

JJ is running around and he is already a fabric of this family. It's like he has always been here, a part of us and a part of our life. Maybe it wasn't he that was waiting for a family, but it was us waiting for him. My father once told me "you are never fully human until you raise a child." I can't speak for anyone else but I can fully feel myself becoming more fully a person watching JJ, knowing that in my hands I hold the ability to shape him or ruin him, motivate him or deflate him... And it is an awe inspiring feeling - something I've never really felt before.

And with that JJ has given me a gift. The gift of completeness and comfort. The gift of a new experience and life. The gift of becoming competely human.


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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Going to America

We are on the bus. And it's a cool quiet morning. We passed the streets of Guangzhou "proper" which we walked before and it's unrecognizably quiet. The lull before the storm of activity which will ensue as the run rises.

Now we are on the plane and taxing. Heading to Hong Kong. They checked our bags to San Francisco so we were able to take advantage of the two bags per person 50"
Lb per bag limit. As well as additional carry on. Every family had at least 1 additional checked bag and more carry ons not to mention bottles, strollers, diaper bags, and other infant accoutrements. We were lucky. Our "baby" could roll and carry carryons for us! LOL.

The check in process was weird. Very stacked up. Obviously no one told them that there were 10 families coming through with a mix of chinese and american passports. LOL. After the first few families, they got used to it and things were smooth.

The boarding process was an orderly queue. Everyone just got in line in whatever order. There was no elite line or children first policy.

We managed to spend a bit of the remaining Chinese money stocking up on snacks for JJ. It will be interesting waning him off of a full Chinese diet. But at the orphanage it seems they had milk and bread for breakfast. We know he ate a lot of noodles. But there is no way I'm gonna be getting up to make him noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It will be cereal, sandwiches, soups. Luckily, he like Snyder's honey dijon pretzel chips and flavored potato chips and Subway sandwiches. He's lucky that at least Mama bakes her own bread and that we live near may Chinese grocers. Whatever the other moms have in their carts is going into mine! LOL.

This is the first of 3 flights. When we told him we would be taking 3 different airplanes, he couldn't believe it! We had to tell him 3 times. And then he said, "it's impossible!!" LOL.

Next stop is Hong Kong.

Zaijian, everyone, zaijian!

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The Last Day

Today was the last day in China. We came two weeks ago and we will take away with us a most precious gift - the Gift of a Child. One so sparkly and so bright that he lights up the darkest and rainiest day we've had on this trip.

When he got up this morning, we told JJ that tomorrow morning we are going to Meiguo (America). We are going to the feijichang (airport) and take the plane to America. And he smiled his big smile and laughed his high laughed, crawled back into bed, pulled the covers over his head, and said, "shui jiao" (go to sleep). He wants tomorrow to come quickly. He has been singing a little song he made up about going to America. Neil Diamond would have been proud. And he's been telling everyone about his trip.

We spent a lazy morning, talking, watching the heavy rain, wondering occasionally if a swim was in order (it was not) and started packing.

After lunch at the local Chinese/European style deli, we did more shopping, including the purchase of a couple of suitcases needed to bring back some additional purchases. The extra suitcase we brought from home packed with things for JJ has multiplied and we were overflowing.

Then we went to a Thai restaurant - one of the best dinners so far - on Shamian (the Land of Idyllic Ambiance lest anyone forget). And this time, we saw no wedding photographers! The interesting thing was that Harriet noticed napkins were on the menu for a charge. The Chinese have this thing about doling out single ply dribs and drabs of paper, whether it is tissue or napkins or paper towels or whatever. And so we decided to splurge and order napkins with dinner. They brought us a packet of handy pack kleenex. I hate to think what that cost.

We came back and waited for our guide to come bring us paperwork for immigration. She got here just before 7pm. And we are now in possession of the infamous Brown Envelope which contains all the paperwork for American Customs, copies of JJ's Chinese passport and a receipt for payment, and another sealed gray-brown envelope with JJ's American passport and visa, which has his Chinese passport stapled to the outside

Tomorrow, breakfast is at 6. Bags put outside our rooms before 6:20. On the bus to leave by 6:40. Onto Hong Kong, then to San Francisco. Where JJ will go through customs and become a newly adopted son of the United States of America with all the unalienable rights bestowed upon him as citizen.

It is a momentus occasion as more than one Chinese in China and the USA have told me. They cite his good fortune and tell us how lucky he is. But when good Karma is generated and flows through the whole world, it brings good fortune to us all.

We are waiting to talk to Ye Ye in American before going to bed. And we will tell him that we will meet him in the middle. He'll come forward in time to us and we will go back to our future. And we will see him tomorrow.

I hope we can get some sleep!!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And Whose Kid is This?

Like clockwork.
6:30 am.
Head pops up.
Out of bed.
Into the bathroom.
Back into bed.
Sits up smiling
Starts talking and vroom vroom vroom, he's off!

I knew this would happen.
Another morning person.
Just like Joseph.

:o/

Now I have TWO of them in the house.
My days of peace and tranquility are gone gone gone.

:o//

Have I mentioned I'm not a morning person?
Maybe after we get home, he'll be so jet lagged he'll turn into a night person.

Hmmm...he has school in the morning... Ok. So maybe Morning Person is a good thing.

Whatever.

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A Superlative Day

Today was better than an excellent day. It was another free day. We had a choice of going to see a buddhist temple and some mountain with the group and we opted out. My opinion is: see one temple, see them all. It's more about spirituality then the temple itself. I already offered up prayers at the first temple so I was done. And mountain? Hmmm. Probably not.

First Joseph went for a run early - around 6. Then we went to breakfast. And after relaxing for a while back at the room, Joseph and JJ went swimming and I went to run on the treadmill at the fitness center. They swam in the pool by the fitness center so I could see them. We waved to each other. It was so wonderful.

After I was done running, I went down to sit by the pool while JJ finished his swim. He showed me all his tricks. Too bad he would kick and float in the same place. What a riot!

Then we went to lunch at the local Subway - on Shamian Island - the land of Idyllic Ambiance. We had a nice picnic on a couple of benches in one of the Idyllic Gardens before the rains started and watched more wedding dress models get their picture taken. My favorite dress today was white with black worn by a chubbier female model who was also very beautiful in the face.

This is the second day we've had Subway and my stomach loved me! I was giving it food that it recognized. I don't go to Subways at home but I now have newfound respect for the quality of chain restaurants when traveling to foreign lands!

Speaking of Chain restaurants, we went to the local Starbucks around the corner. YUMMY!! It rained, so JJ and I sat under one umbrella sharing our lemon cake while Joseph, his Mom and H shared another umbrella.

Afterwards, we went to another store, Andy's Place, where we bought so much stuff and Joseph masterfully bargained them down. So much so that it took 6 people from the store to gather around collaborate and agree! LOL. I told JJ to sit back and be quiet. All I know is we will need two more piece of luggage.

Then we went into another store where a teacher from one of the Orphanages were selling scrolls and teas and all manner of unique items that are created by the students at the orphanage. All proceeds go to help the orphanage under the organization of Rise Up. We bought some things but didn't bargain too much since it was benefiting the orphanage.

We found out some things. There are two sides to the orphanage. One side is State and one side is Adoption. You do not cross over once you are assigned. Adoption side can go to state it they age out without being adopted. On the State side, the kids age out at 16 when they must leave the Orphanage and make their own way. I saw a photo albums of beautiful order children who have little future. And the scrolls and artwork I saw made by these kids were amazing. It's unfortunate that we can't save the world. I causes pain in my heart. And when the teacher mentioned how fortunate JJ was, I KNEW what he was saying. It hit home.

We came back to the hotel and rested. Joseph's sister sent us an email with a song attached and we played it. JJ and I danced to the music. It was our first Mother / Son dance!

And then we went to dinner at the Silk Road Grill room. It is on the top 3 restaurants I've ever been too in all my travels. They started us off with a chef's first course of seared tuna slice on top of a frisee salad - just a mouthful to whet the appetite. Then we started off with Escargot followed by a lobster bisque that was thin and had chunks of lobster. Superb! Joseph also ordered caviar - my favorite!! Then onto a chef's choice palate cleanser of lichee sherbert.

And then the main course was served on plates with stainless steel covers served by waiters in tuxedos and white gloves. They brought the main course over, set it down in front of each person and then lifted the lids in unison. I've never seen this executed this well. I had beef tenderloin with pepper gravy, small veggies, and a square of gratineed potato. We then finished with a crepe suzette which was made tableside. H and I shared. JJ got a frothy egg meringue floating on truffle vanilla custard. Terrific. Then the chef brought cookies and cinnamon cookies - indescribable.

Before we left they presented the women with real red roses. Beautiful. It sits in a glass now on our night stand. This restaurant is definitely one of the top 3 I've been too. Amazing. Service, quality, everything.

Before we went to dinner, JJ and I had had a chat. I told him that this dinner was special. It was a special restaurant, very grown up and very expensive. And when he went in there he had to be quiet, stay sitting up straight in his chair and not move around too much. He said he understood and I said if he did this for me, Mama would be so proud.

We went in and he did great. He slouched only a couple of times and when I reminded him, he sat up straight. When we got there we were the only ones with the attention of 4 or 5 wait staff. So I leaned over and said to him, they are all watching us. He can turn and see them. And then he turned around and saw the wait staff's attentiveness. So I leaned over and said, they are all watching so he must be good to show them how wonderful he is and he nodded and agreed. I told him how proud I was of him.

I have never seen an eight year old sit through a formal 3 hour dinner the way that JJ did. And by formal, I mean one of the most formal that Joseph and I have been to! JJ didn't just sit, he enjoyed and fully participated. I am grateful for his character and thankful for the teaching from the orphanage that he received.

We came back to the room and while Joseph and Nai Nai were on Skype talking to America, JJ put himself to bed and to sleep.

It was a superlative day.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Very Good Day

Well, after the debacle of yesterday, today was a very good day. No spillage, no breakage and the blue skies fulfilled their promise of a very good day.

After my run this morning, Joseph and JJ went to the pool. But right before they left the room, he presented JJ with one of those circle floatie things. JJ was psyched! I stayed in the hotel room and did some work, got some really important down time away from people and mayhem. When they got back to the room, JJ was so excited and demonstrated for me how he used the float and how he kicked and kicked and swam with Baba. It was awesome!

Then we went to Subway. I never thought that a Subway would be sooooo good!! We took it to go and had a picnic on the bed after baba spread out a huge towel to protect the bed.

Afterwards, we went downstairs for pictures on the Red Couch. Wensi the Guide was there waiting for us. And she even found a photographer! Of course he had a film camera instead of digital but in the end it worked out. We'll wait and see what the pictures are like. I look a ton of pictures, too, and so did the Doctor traveling with us.

Then we went to our rooms to put away our cameras, got on the bus to go to the American Consulate. We were led into a room to sit and wait as each family was called up to a window. We handed our passports over which they compared with the original paperwork, we signed a form and was ask to sit and wait.

When all the families were finished being called up, an American woman came out and spoke with us. Told us about the consulate and what they do and why we should enroll with the consulate when we travel. She asked how many went out to the website to sign up. And of course no one did. And of course I will going forward after hearing about why we should!

My friend H had brought JJ a little American flag. And when it was time to swear in, the parents raised their right hands to swear allegiance on behalf of the children, JJ raised his right hand, too, with the little American flag from Harriet. It will be added to his memory book.

After the ceremony, we came back to the hotel until dinner. We all went back to the Petrus restaurant we went to for lunch yesterday for one of the best dinners we've had since we've been in China. And a nice bottle of Bordeaux. And Auntie H did the honors as landlord and treated us. We didn't have the heart to tell her that she only paid for llike a THIRD of the dinner not including the wine! Anyway... It was all very special.

JJ had a very good time. He was on his best behavior and best humor.

Tomorrow we will have a free day. And maybe I'll go for another run to look at the blue skies again.

JJ has already announced that we will go swimming again! LOL. I think we will have a little triathlete. He is a great runner and has a terrific kick. We'll have to get him a bike soon.

JJ said that tonight he is going to talk to Yeh Yeh before he goes to bed. At dinner he said, "Mama, we eat dinner, then we go to the room, and then we talk to Yeh Yeh, and then we sleep!" He cracks me up!! Of course, all of that was in Chinese. It would have really cracked me up if he had said it in English! LOL!

Ok. That's all.

So. Tired.

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Observation of the Day: Sunbrella

So, today we were on the bus going to the American Consulate and we looked out the window and lo and behold, what did we see?

A woman riding a bicycle with extraordinary skill. She was riding it with an open umbrella to shade herself from the sun. It was blue and it was largish. Quite substantial, actually.

All I could think of was we just needed a stiff wind to make it more extraordinary.

Yup. Yup yup yup.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Fitness notes

Ok. Travel is starting to wear on me. After the meltdown day of yesterday, Joseph kicked me out of the room this morning and told me to go run. So I went to the fitness room to get on the treadmill, dragging my butt and then realized that I had forgotten my Body Bugg.

Ok. Maybe I'm a little obsessed but seriously. Ya know? A girl has to keep up with her steps and calories and fitness time - none of the targets of which I've met but once while on this trip. So I schlepped by butt back to the room to get it.

When I arrived back at the fitness room, the treadmills were full. PFFT!!! So I planted my butt on a platform (no idea what it's for) and waited for 10 minutes. I managed to wake up enough to start getting irritated at having to wait.

Finally a guy started walking. I assumed it was a cool down. But good grief! How long does a cool down take?? For him about 7 minutes. Not that I timed him or anything. Whatever.

Then I get on the treadmill and it's covered in sweat. I don't get it. This is a universal phenomenon the whole world over. And usually the byproduct of males. They sling sweat all over the equipment and walk away as if they have just laid before you a golden egg - like the bacteria of their body fluid secretions are gold guilded or something. GAHHHH!!! Drives me crazy.

So I got off the treadmill, stomp over to the water and towel stand where the Golden Egg Layer was standing, wetted a towel with hot water, gave him the hairy eyeball, all while muttering under my breath, and stomped loudly to the treadmill and wiped it all down with great flourish! And then I marched over to the towel basket, where he was standing, and threw the towel into the bin. All the while giving him a hairier eyeball than before. I think he got the message. I was getting ready to smack him with the wet dirty towel!

The run felt good until the asthma hit. GOOD GOD!!!

The treadmill overlooks the pool and someone was doing the breast stroke. This must a unique Chinese phenomenon. Everyone we saw at the pool here and in Beijing does the breast stroke. That's it. No other stroke. Me? I'd sink and drown.

Anyway, in the middle of my asthma stress, I looked out over the river and saw blue skies and puffy clouds. And I thought, today is going to be a good day. The skies say so.

And sure enough, with only 3 hours to go, I hit my calorie output, walking, and activity time targets.

And when I got back, my son was waiting for me with a big smile!

Life is definitely good!

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Wensie ... Or Murphy's Law

So, Wensie is our guide. And she is NO Susan -our guide in Beijing. We went from dull to hair-raising in a matter of hours.

Today was paperwork day. Our guide was going to the American Consulate to apply for the passports and visas with the paperwork we filled out. We were supposed to wait in our rooms until she called to release us in case there were questions.

Ever get locked in a room with an energetic 8 year old? It's vujade all over again. Joseph ended up playing ball in the hallway with him until they got yelled at by a hotel staff that play facilities are in the Swan Room. LOL. I figured someone was going to get annoyed.

At 12:05 we heard a knock on the door, thinking it was Wensie. Nope. I was Jay - another parent. He said "Hi, Wensie here..." He seemed a bit annoyed. Wensie had sent him to tell all the parents to meet up on the 11th floor. So off we went.

We arrived and families slowly gathered, including the Annoying Chinese Woman traveling alone - who yet again talked through THIS meeting too. Pffft!!! We waited for about 20 minutes and then Wensie appeared. Apparently one of the forms were wrong. We were to sign it all at the American Consulate in front of the clerk or whomever. So we had to redo that one form. She kept saying rules changed but everyone was skeptical. Anyway, we did what she said - what we didn't get was why we just didn't do the last page since that was the only one that was wrong?

I was one of the first two people to finish. As I handed mine in, she was having a conversation with someone, stopped to tell me something about tomorrow, and another person came up and she stopped in the middle with me to tell that person the same thing ... Uh, she was having 3 conversations! No wonder things were chaotic.

So I basically said, "no no no.... Just wait and tell us all at once." She said she didn't want us to wait, and I told her it was confusing and this is why we are here!!! So she looked dubious so other families who heard loudly agreed.

So 10 minutes later, she addressed us all (finally) and we heard the same thing at the same time and we could have all our questions answered. Tomorrow we are going to the consulate. She was trying to cherry pick what each person should bring, so I just interrupted and said, "bring everything, why is that a problem? If you don't have what they need, you will be screwed." And everyone agreed.

Some of us got xrays and she didn't tell everyone not to open it. So one family went off and tried. Thank God he couldn't because it's supposed to be opened by customs in the USA!

She then said we would be getting our oath tomorrow which contradicts the schedule we got. And she said only the child and parents need to go. And no cameras or cell phones allowed. Well, I was told that we could take pictures and all our friends who came with us could witness the oath. We all looked at each other skeptically but didn't say anything.

And then the Red Couch discussion started. This is a picture of all the families with their children on the Red Couch. It is a momentous occasion and the color red has a lot of deep meaning in China. So we asked if we would be doing this. She looked as us incredulously and said, "you want to do THAT???" We said yes and told her what it meant to us. She looked absolutely taken aback that we would want to do it. Then she said "ok, bring your cameras." Which got everyone going because we all want to be in the picture. She said she would take it. Then one of the mothers said the pictures she's seen were all professionally done. Well she seemed aggravated about that. And said someone would pay. And so we said we'll all pay. She seemed resigned and said she would ask around for a professional photographer and that we would meet at 1pm.

GOOD GRIEF!!!
Uh, sorry, we didn't mean to inconvenience you!! Oh brother.

Anyway, it was done. At least until tomorrow. All I know is that the parents have banded together now in mutual skepticism. We feel that she just doesn't care. One of the parents jokingly asked her if she was out partying last night instead of working on our applications and she said that, yes, she went out with her friends last night. OK. Whatever.

All I have to say is Thank God our agency is so awesome and so terrific. They are working so damn hard behind the scenes and this just makes it unnecessarily harder on them. The families are very protective of our Agency and the director and all the people who work there. And they have educated us all pretty well. They also do not deserve this type of service. Anyway... Everything will work out. They always do.

Afterwards we had a bite a really nice restaurant - the Rose Garden on Shamian Island - Petrus. The food was awesome and we want to go back for dinner.

Then back to the room, relax for a bit and then go off the Island and do some shopping in Guangzhou "proper." Again. But this time we learned our lesson and took a side road to avoid the animal parts, insects and reptiles. We ended up getting JJ a couple pair of sneakers, a pair of windproof pants and a shirt. Joseph's mom and I each got a pair of shoes.

We had another abundantly copious meal at the Guangzhou, which is in "guangzhou 'proper'", off the Island of Idyllic Ambiance. The first thing JJ does was sit by Nai Nai (grandmother) and Uncle (my friend from the USA). My gut said it wasn't good but I let it go. JJ was goofing off and threw a cup of hot tea all over himself. Nai Nai immediately took him in hand, Uncle got him ice, and I just sat across the table making eye contact with him. He just stared at me. If I freaked, I knew he would. He was brave and made it through. A little redness that went away by the end of dinner. So we both learned lessons - he learned not to be grabby, careless - the Korean word is "Kaburah" and cannot be translated easily - the best way is "naughty" without the bad connotations - won't sit still, moves his body around, goofing off, etc. And Mama and Baba learned that one of us must always sit next to him.

Then he had tea and the cup slipped through his hand and it broke. Uncle had to pay for this broken cup. We couldn't believe it but since being in China for a week and 2 days, I am starting to believe just about anything. Uncle couldn't believe it. I told him to let JJ know and Uncle explained to him that he had to pay for it as a result of his carelessness. He is 8, almost 9. He needs to understand that a single action has consequences that impact those around him.

Action leads to reaction leads to consequences. This he must learn. How much do we react? He will burn his hand, fall down and get cut and bruised a hundred times before adulthood. We must sit by and let him learn every time, removing anything seriously harmful as best we can. This is the most painful thing so far.

We are setting boundaries and he does test us. Sometimes it gets him into trouble and in that way, he will learn. He is a very good child and very smart. Sometimes it's harder to parent a smart child but I'd rather have that difficulty than deal will a dull child for the rest of my life. I know. That sounds harsh and isn't very politically correct but it is what it is. How many of us are saints? No one. And how many would choose the latter over the former? Face our demons and admit it? Very few.

I am not an American parent and I was raised by Koreans. Growing up I knew there were distinct differences in the parenting style. But I will discipline in the Korean way since that is what I know - strict and firm with very high boundaries. I know that people who are not Asian may frown on this. But I do not intend to explain the unexplainable.

There will also be a healthy dose of loving. Indulgences are carefully selected and rewarded when they are earned. And we will try to pass on the lessons I've learned about Karma and the way we are all connected, one and the same, altogether. Joseph and I agree on this. And we will try to raise a child who is filled with spirit and thought, and one who will have a good impact on this life to all he is connected to. This we know we will try to do.

Right now he is in bed having a conversation between JingJing and Panda - two stuffed animals that Lilly Ayi (aunt) and Nai Nai bought him. A healthy imagination. And he doesn't even seem tired or the worse for wear given all he has gone through.

Ok. That's all. What a day.

Tomorrow is American Consulate and Red Couch day. Should be interesting.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Treasure Day

Yesterday was Treasure Day. Some we had to hunt for and others fell into our laps.

We went shopping on Shamian Island and I found the joy of bargaining. They give you 20% off. I ask for 50% off and usually settle around 40%. Some people say that you should get 70% off but everything is already so cheap that the additional reduction isn't worth it. It would turn fun into business and become too competitive. The shopkeepers need to feel good that they were able to get more from Americans than locals. We have to feel good that we got more than we would from other shop keepers. No matter how low we go in price, we smile and laugh and say "I'll split you 50:50". Even if we talked them down from 350, after getting them down to 250, I say 200 and they say 220, then we say, "split 50:50" and I get it for 210 Yuan. 6.8 Yuans equal $1USD. And at that point, we're only talk a cupplabucks. So both sides have to walk away feeling as if they bargained well.

JJ is a quick study. After watching me a few times, JJ started bargaining on his own. Except, uhhhh, noooo... We don't really want that fan, now do we??? Nope. Didn't think so. LOL.

We also had 3 outfits hand tailored for about 198USD. We pick it up on Wednesday and if one doesn't turn out right, we're not worried at that price!

We also found red crocs for JJ with Mickey Mouse gibet for around $3USD. He loves red. Totally cracks me up.

We had a pouting moment when JJ wanted Pokemon cards. Ok. Let me just say, I do not get it. What is the deal with these cards?? I mean, they are CARDS! They don't move, or talk, or interact. They don't even sing or dance! What is the fascination? So, we said no. Yah. Mean Mama Moment 3 (anyone counting?) and Mean Baba Moment. Glad Joseph finally had a Mean Moment of his own but I'm still ahead. Anyway, there was the stuck out lip, the jutting jaw, the sad eyes and large frown. It totally cracked us up. He's gonna get it real fast the Mama and Baba are not easily manipulated. He's a quick study after all!

All the way back to the hotel (about 100 meters) he pouted. Then Baba took him You Yong (swimming) and all was forgotten. JJ also has a short memory. LOL. I didn't go. I stayed in the room because I was so tired and my wrist felt like someone was stabbing it with an ice pick every time I breathed. So I iced it. And then took a percoset because the Naprosen wasn't effective enough, and then I took this and I took that and well... I think I was only missing valium and morphine. And Mom (Joe's) had a wrist brace and that helped mobilize it from painful movement. But the pain was persistent and it didn't subside until after dinner.

Speaking of breathing, in addition to advair, I'm also taking albuterol (inhaler) which I never use bit have for emergencies, and steroids temporarily. Yah. Not good. MGF Lilly's husband says every time he comes to China, he gets 5 years taken off his life. I swear I've had 10.

And don't laugh. Two words. Neti. Pot. Awesome for the sinuses.

Anyway, we've been observing and watching JJ and it's amazing. He is smart. Amazingly smart. Picks things up. Makes his bed precision. Teaches us Chinese - correcting our Chinese, even - and is learning English fast. He is now telling us he is hungry in english. He understands more than he can speak. And that he "needs help". The regret I have is not being able to communicate with him better. I watch my Chinese friends explain things to him, why he should or shouldn't do something and he understands. He is so smart that logic and reason appeal to him. And I have to use English and then ask him "dong bu dong?" (Do you or do you not understand? And he nods his head and say "dong" (I understand). Poor kid. But it shows calm under duress, right?

We show him how to do something once and he listens. And sign language is huge. And sometimes it's so funny, like a game of charades and we all fall down laughing!!

Now the usual 8yo boy stuff is a challenge because as Joseph says, "boys will be boys". Some of this stuff, Joseph has had to explain to me. Like playing while peeing. Uh. What??? Joe just laughed. I was dumbfounded. Why would anyone do that?? I guess if you're 8 years old, you do. But Joseph walked him over, showed him, explained and we've had no further episode that I know of. Phew.

JJ is exceptionally neat and clean and washes his hands without being told. When he is tired he always asks to go to sleep. Amazing. A kid who does not force himself to stay awake in case he misses a single moment of the dull sitting around his parents do before bed. Sometimes we have to say no and explain that if he goes to sleep now, he will wake up 2 and Mama and Baba will be sleeping. I guess in a way it shows he is secure with us. That we will still be there when he wakes up.

He loves hugs and kisses, and when you tell him you want a hug, he smiles and come running over to you.

When we arrived in Guangzhou, we gave him a drawer. His face just lit up, as bright as the sun. He put away all his toys and books. Not just put them away but arranged all his toys neatly. All his favorite things - the things we brought from his friends in America and the things we bought are equally well treated. I had to remind him to put his clothes away, too. I think it's the first time he's been able to have a space to call his own.

When we walk around shopping, he talks to everyone. Tells them he is going to America with his Baba and Mama. He is so happy and so proud. This is a kid that's been waiting for a family his entire life. And he is carrying on his own daily celebration of having that dream come true. It's truly marvelous (and sometimes amusing) to watch. And we found our treasure in him.

Ok. That's all. Today is another day. It's another paperwork day so we'll see how it goes. One family came rushing up to us at breakfast and said she was having a Guide Problem. LOL! So aren't we all...

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Cha Cha Cha

Observation of the Week: The ubiquitous cha. Aka tea. And I've discovered that it's not just "tea.". It's Cha with a capital "C".

When you order tea in America, you get Lipton. Or Salada. If you're ordering in a Chinese restaurant, it's some sort of nameless black tea. If it's Japanese, it's green tea. And if you're in the South, it's sweet tea.

Tea in China is so important that they sell glass double walled tea carriers that look like mini nalgene bottles. I first saw them on the flight to China and then I saw them at a store and they are Not. Cheap. But they are so cool that I wished I drank enough tea to actually justify getting one.

In China, when you order tea, you get a choice. Not between just two teas - black or green - but between an array of black and an array of green. In fact most places bring over a menu. Yah. Just for tea. Usually 2 pages. Categorized by type - jasmine, herb, oolong, green, etc. I never knew there were so many. And they are priced by the pot. And it's not cheap. Anywhere from $2 to $10 a pot! Seriously. And it's served in tiny little cups usually, that you fill over and over again. And if you don't fill it, the wait staff will fill it.

Our tea experience culminated at dinner the other night. Our table had a dedicated tea girl. She comes over to the table, and the Tea Process begins. There is a tea table next to our eating table. There is a silver pot of water on a stand over a burner hot enough to boil the water and keep it hot. Uhhh... Definitely no tea lights here. Then she puts tea in a strainer that sits over a largish cup with a spout. She pours hot water into the strainer, covers it with a cute little lid and steeps it for a minute, takes out the strainer leaving hot tea, then pours that tea into a smallish tea pouring pot. Then she takes that tea pouring pot and pours tea into tiny little cups that hold only an ounce or two. And then we drink it.

Then it happens over again. And she does this all through dinner. Yup. Yup yup yup. And tea pouring is serious business. She was well dressed in a beautiful uniform, was pretty and fair of face and spoke no English. In fact, I'm not sure if she could speak at all because she never uttered a word.

And I also noticed there was no "white" tea at all on any of the menus.

Anyway, this tea drinking is such serious business that I kinda wished I were a serious tea drinker. Not to mention being able to justify buying one of the beautiful tea sets for purchase in all the stores we've been in.

Oh. And on a totally unrelated side note, all those brides we've been seeing on Shamian Island (Land of Idyllic Ambiance) are models on photo shoots. But they're out there every day! How many pictures do they need? I mean, you can only see so many before they all start looking alike!

And now I am all drugged up for my wrist which is swollen. Tendonitis according to my friend H. And the travel doctor also gave me steroids for my asthma. I am a walking pharmacology.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Hague Tidbits

First, I mentioned "Hague" in a prior post. Basically, Hague is a certification, etc, and I am not sure if it has weight requirements with it but I do know that children need more shots as a result. And parents have to do way more paperwork. We are NOT Hague. Thankfully. We are pre-Hague. Along with a lotof other changes, in May of 2007, China put new qualification rules into place. This covers number of years married, health issues and mental "episodes" (eg depression) of the parents.

And... The big thing for supersized Americans is BMI. Body Mass Index. This measures how Fat you are. If you have a BMI of 40%, you are ineligible for adoption. There was a lot of protest around this on the adoption boards from the Americans. Most of the Europeans didn't have much to say about it. Which to me was no surprise. But you have to consider that 30% is over weight and up to 40% is morbidly obese. I don't know what above 40% is but I bet it's near-death's-door-obese. And guess who has an obesity issue? Yah. Americans.

So, given that, it gives you a good perspective of what the Americans on the message boards are protesting. I seriously doubt they know what they are protesting. My perspective is, we are adopting China's children, and China absolutely should have the right to decide who can and cannot adopt. They are protecting their children. We assume that fatter people are unhealthier and can die earlier. Or fat people tend to raise fat children. Etc etc etc.

And the difference in thinking between Americans and Asians was stark. Most of the Asians were "meh... So what... China is right...". The Americans were really indignant about children's rights, parents rights, freedom, how wrong it is to limit adoptive parents, etc etc etc. The divide is pretty big. And neither side could convince the other. Where do I stand? Other than the basic tenets of the right to the pursuit of happiness, as a child, I was told my only rights were conveyed upon me by my parents as long as I lived under their roof and that my only job is to be a good student. Yah. I'm totally Asian. So I kept my mouth shut! LOL!

So yesterday, we were at the clinic and Joseph emails me. "Pre-Hague." And I look around and sure enough, there sat a married couple with their son. Each one was the same size - Large. As in HUGE. Humongoids. Yah. They could fill a piano box. Seriously. They were the biggest adoptive parents that I've seen by a wide margin. The kid looked like he was about 2 years old and very active. In the face, the kid also looked just like the father. It really is amazing how similar the kids look like the parents.

Anyway, I just hope their kid doesn't get fat. If anything, I hope he makes them runs around and lose weight. And maybe, they will live long enough to see their grandchildren.

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Assaulting the Thousand Senses

So, today was an understatement of a thousand senses and not all of it was good.

Today was Clinic Day. This means JJ got his American Consulate physical. Simple, right? Yah. That shows what I didn't know.

First, we had agreed to meet the Guides on the second floor. Joseph, JJ and I are there at the appointed time and wait. Wait wait wait. Almost 40 minutes go by. Then Joseph's mom, who was having breakfast, saw the guide wandering around the ground floor in the breakfast area and brought her to us! This was after we had checked in the business center, the restaurant, out front down the stairs and around the side, rinse, repeat. Twice. The minute I saw her, I showed her how pissed off I was. I mean, she said to meet here! Why wasn't she here? On time? Whatever.

We walked to the clinic. Nice walk. Guangzhou is green, I thought. Lots of small shops and parks and about 10 couples in the same colored, similar styled, wedding dresses with grooms to be and professional photographers in tow, posing in a high style manner that you see in magazines. I was thinking something sarcastic but decided to be kind.

First, we sat and waited. Lots of that going on. Then it started. TB test - read the paperwork, oops, next xrays, pay money, then pay more money, ENT, height, weight, check out the scar on his chest, etc etc etc. Through it all, JJ was a trooper. I would say that he actually enjoyed himself. And he kept asking for a shot. We had to tell him, "NO SHOT! GAH!". He got the message after the Mean Mommy Moment Number 2 (not that we are counting or anything, hehe). Jeez. What kinda kid wants a shot? But you could tell he was used to the doctors. He was on the table or had his shirt up without being told. He knew what to do.

Then we had another slow walk back to the hotel. Right through the greenery and the sea of brides in champagne-colored princess dresses.

JJ found a friend. The 9 yo boy from the Lost Family. He is blond and beautiful. Of course every Chinese person wanted to have their picture taken with him. It was a very slow walk back to the hotel.

Then it was paperwork time. At 12:30pm we met. We got back to the hotel around noon. Hmm. No lunch. Okie. We didn't get started until around 1pm. In a hotel room 4 doors down from ours. Good grief. Just to set the stage... hypoglycemia .... Yah.

Let met tell you about the cluster that it was. The two guides were there with about 7 families. Instead of going over each paper, filling out each line, the guide just sort of went along, giving us a bit to fill in the blanks and then moved on. Even if we weren't ready. So she would have to go back and repeat herself, thus ensuring that even those who were ahead got confused.

And how many times do they have to say "you're filling this in as if you were your child" before people stop asking whose address they write in or whose birthday?? My patience was running out of battery.

And some of us had downloaded an old form. Do you think they had any spares? Uh. Of course not. That would have made sense!! Anyhow, we managed to get through it. Paperwork is hard and harrying. You have to get it right or the American Consulate is unhappy. And of course, for someone like me, it was a hair-raising experience. I sat with a nuclear science person from MIT and another guy who seemed very organized and we kept giving each other the raised eyebrows.

And at one point there was an Asian woman, who was traveling alone, who was like "blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda" throughout the process. And then she'd ask the same stupid questions and i am thinking "if you just shut the hell up, you'd know where we are! ARG!!!!!"

And of course she was "Hague," which meant a completely different set of paperwork and she says "well, I don't work. And we are adopting based on my husband's salary, and ummm.. How about 450 or 500k? Blah blah blah.". What an eyeroller. The three of us sitting together just rolled our eyes. Does she even realized that some people (possibly in the room) may have had to scrape to be able to adopt? Well, no wonder she doesn't work. She's an idiot. I was so annoyed.

So she didn't shut up and at one point, I looked across the room and said, "I hate to be a downer but, um, can we have one conversation so that it's not confusing and we can move this along?"

Then the paperwork was done and wo tou tong (I had a headache)! Of course it was around 2:15 and I was totally hypoglycemic.

After lunch, another friend who had flown in from the States to be with us this week, decided to test our senses. We walked into Guangzhou "proper" where "the regular people live.". Uhhh... Ok. We basically walked off the island. Shamian Island. Land of the greenery, adoption, cute shops and brides. And we walked into a new meaning for "Teeming Masses." In fact, we walked into a market area with shops of all kinds of things that test your imagination and assault your sense of smell. Scorpions, worms, eels, snakes, good god, bunnies, chickens, goats, good grief, sea worms, silk worm larvae, medicinal roots and hers and animal parts... Ok. I've actually had silk worm larvae before but I don't think I'd do it again.

JJ had his mouth and nose covered with his hands and at one point Joseph says "do you see your son?" Huh? "He's getting sick to his stomach.". Well. He's Chinese, why would he get sick? "The smell." Well. How do I know? I'm Korean! And Koreans don't smell so good!! So we hurried back to Shamian Island, Land of Idyllic Ambiance. And everyone was happy.

We rested in the hotel room before dinner and a doctor traveling with the group came by. We had a nice chat and he examined JJ, declaring him to be fine. I learned a few things about the doctors I need to make appointments with when we get back home.

Then to dinner which my friend had picked out that is about a block from our hotel. This was our first normal sized meal since arriving! Fresh steamed fish, tofu and scallions, egg fried rice, chinese broccoli, a nice bottle of wine, deep friend pumpkin and egg custard. YUMMY!!!

So, our thousand senses were assaulted today. And JJ was the only one who scored - pants, a shirt, and Toy Story 2 video in English with Chinese subtitles. Happy happy!

Ok. That's all. More to come.
I wonder if my hand hurts because of typing so much.

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The Guangzhou Arrival Debacle

If Beijing was all about the Chinese Government, then Guangzhou is all about the American Government. In Beijing we did paperwork for China. In Guangzhou, we will do paperwork for the American Government and get JJ an American Passport and a visa.

We got into Guangzhou around 1am. If you were to look at a map of China, not that you would want to, but if for some reason you passed one and stopped to look, Beijing is north, Guangzhou is south and a 3 hour plane ride away. We circled for another hour or 5, so it seemed, and at one point I remembered reading "Outliers" and thought in horror that the plane had ASIAN pilots!!!

Anyway, the dis-embarking was a cluster (read prior note about dis-embarking horror) and then we had to take a bus to the terminal and walk and walk... And the heat and humidity, oh my...

First impressions were of heat, smoke, humidity, people people people!! And then baggage claim - I was made to go to Guangzhou because I am a fighter. People just rammed into you, and went through your luggage with their carts, and I was basically yelling at people and you know? They were unfazed. UN. FAZED. Really.

We made it out to the waiting lobby area, looked for the red China Adoption with Love sign, and .... Nothing. Hmmm. So we waited. 10 minutes later, I walked back to "see" and.... Zip. Nothing. Still. Hmmm. Maybe it's not a red sign? So panic started welling up. I do it again. So, what is that definition of stupidity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? Yah. And since it didn't work for me, Joseph decided to try. But this time he took a piece of luggage with the bright yellow tag that signified our travel group. And sure enough, the guide finds us. Actually, Joseph found the guide.

And then we go outside. OMG!!!!! Teaming Mass O' Rude People!!!! And the pickup area was a nightmare. And we had to wait about an HOUR for the driver!!! And then we had to drive another hour to the hotel!! Ok. Maybe it was shorter but at that time of night with total physical exhaustion - 5 minutes... 60 minutes.... Same thing.

On the ride to the White Swan Hotel JJ fell asleep. Poor thing. And when we got to the hotel, we had to wake him up. OMG. I've never seen such disorientation, legs buckling, head wobbling, body crumpling, it was funny and horrifying at the same time in a voyeuristic way. Ok. That's my Horrible Mommy Moment.

In the meantime, the guides were having a mini drama of their own. There was a lost family. Really. As in te Guides couldn't find them. YIKES! They had landed 45 minutes before us. They couldn't be found. Hmmm... Does not conjure up warm and fuzzies. This family was a mom traveling without her husband, a 9 yo son and her friend. We knew she was picking up a 2 1/2 yo. All alone. The guide had waited for her. They were trying to get in touch with the guide where she got on the plane. Here it was after midnight, no family, no Guide on the Other Side of the Flight, and no cell phone, no nothing! We left. And in the middle one of the guides got off at the bus stop to go back to find them. So we went on without her.

At the hotel, right before we checked in, in walked the Lost Family. And they were PISSED! I cannot tell you how happy I was to see them. They had waited for an hour and no guides showed up. Then they went out into the Teaming Masses of Rude People and waited. In the meantime, the guide had gotten another family onto a bus and had gone inside to look for them. In the end, the Lost Family took a bus, then a taxi and survived. So what do you think happened? Yah. Ships passing in the night. The Lost Family gets the MVP award. Especially because none of them spoke a lick of Chinese.

We made brief arrangements with the guide for the morning and managed to get JJ to brush his teeth and then right into bed.

Oh. And my wrist hurts. I have no idea why.
JJ is fine. Nothing phases him. Not even my wrist.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Observation of the Day: Stepford Stewardesses

There are a lot of observations so I'll ration them out in case I run out. Hah!

Last night we took Hainian Airlines from Beijing to Guangzhou. The Hainian Airline stewardesses are like cookies. All identical. They're all uniformly tall - maybe 5'7" or 5'9", and slender, classically beautiful in the face in the Asian sense of "classical." :o). Very smooth skin,very fair coloring, and beautifully made up.

It's like they have a template. If you want the job, you stand behind it. If you fit that template you're hired. If not... "NEXT!"

Sort of like Chinese Stepford Village.

Ok. Since were on the airline theme, another observation. The process of getting OFF the plane was a major cluster. Good GRIEF! People from the back of the plane were climbing over each other in the aisle trying to get out. And the door wasn't even open yet! There was no waiting your turn here. None at all. The men! PFFFFT!!!! They was taking their bags, slinging it around, stepping on people, hitting people with their bag, old, young, children women did not matter. Not. At. All.

I finally had to shove a guy back, stepping into the aisle, and said "step back, bozo."

Not sure if they understood but they stepped back.

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Food, Glorious Food... Endlessly....

So, let's revisit the smog. Every day the gray shroud becomes darker and thicker and lower to the ground. It's like that movie "The Fog" except we are nowhere near a lagoon. My throat feels like it does right before I get a sinus infection but H, my doctor friend traveling with us, said it's the pollution. Great. It's been progressively worse for the last 3 days and today, I have a headache, exacerbated by travel weariness.

This morning, we had to pick up JJ's Chinese passport. The traffic was good so we made it to the passport office and back to the hotel in about an hour and 15 minutes. Awesome. Susan the Guide said we were fortunate that there were no mistakes. If there had been a mistake, we'd be leaving for Guangzhou tomorrow instead of tonight.

At the hotel, Susan the Guide left and we went to the room and did some packing before lunch. Does anyone notice this food theme? Ok. Not just food, but the eating theme. Because we did that a lot. But that's typically Asian, not just Chinese. At every meal you think about, talk about, and plan the next meal. I think I've gain 5 lbs to far. No exaggeration.

For Lunch, MGF Lilly took us to a restaurant that was supposedly the oldest Moslem restaurant in China or Beijing or wherever. I don't know. I missed that part of the conversation. I found it to be strangely Chinese. The only concession to Moslem seemed to be the Islamic writing under each Chinese item on the menu. Maybe it was the building that was the oldest? Like I said, I missed that part. But it was really delicious! Another meal of about 3 appetizers, soup, rice, 5 or 6 dishes... Etc etc etc.

We went back to the room, packed, Joseph took JJ out to the Old People Exercise park around the corner from the hotel to tire him out... LOL.

Then said goodbye to MGF Lilly and met Susan the Guide who took us to the airport, got us our tickets, did all the talking and left us at the Security Entrance. It's amazing how attached you get to people in such a short time. Susan was fabulous. Kind, caring, funny, sweet, and very professional and efficient. It was very sad to be leaving her and we couldn't thank her enough.

We found our gate and when JJ saw the airplanes, he was just out of control with happiness and excitement. He was counting all the planes out the window and pulling on our hands to see them with him. It would be safe to say he's probably never been on one or been to the airport either.

Since we would not be arriving in Guangzhou until around 10:30 PM, it was time to eat. Again. Just in case famine struck. Yah. So we found the restaurant. The One. Just One. Nothing Else. Yup. Not another one in the whole airport. And so we sat, ordered more noodles, and ate. JJ, who was full and didn't want to eat, ate anyway. Like all good Asians. Early training.

Waiting for the plane now.

That's it for now. Next...Guangzhou!

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears... and FISH!!!

What a day!!!!
I am exhausted! And we are also doing a mighty fine job of exhausting out the young'un too! Hah!

Yesterday was a free day so we went sightseeing. Did I mention that China is Big? We went to 2 places. TWO. All day, it took!

First, Thank God for The Wonderful Driver from MGF Lilly because he was at our beck and call.

First stop was The Temple of Heaven where the Emperor worshiped Heaven and asked for bountiful harvests, complete with gigantic fire burning urn thingies, Buddhist shrines, and an altar for animal sacrifices. Not only did they use a fatted calf, but also a completely shaved and hairless calf. I can't imagine. We are also talking about a time in history where the USA was not even a glint in Columbus's eye - maybe the Vikings but they did know it was the USA.

Anyway, it was Beautiful. The skies were bluer above the Temple of Heaven than the rest of Beijing. In keeping with the BIG theme, these places were always compounds, not a single building. The shape of the grounds, the colors, the plants all have some symbolic meaning. Of course I took about 300+ pictures. There is also the Echo wall. If you stand next to it and talk quietly, you can hear what another person is saying (even if they whispered) at the far end when they speak toward the wall. We know this because we tested it. :o). The wall is a circle and supposedly, the stones are so tightly mortared that a single strand of hair cannot fit into any space. And the water slushes right off like it's almost waterproof. Amazing. And of course, Joseph and JJ did their requisite pao bu (run) around the complex to inaugurate their first visit as Baba and Erzi (father and son).

Then off to Lunch. Noodles!!! YUMMY! Beijing Noodles - King of Noodles was a typical noodle house with lots of tables, everything in Chinese, lots o' smokers, chairs everywhere, and total mayhem. They had the best chajangmyun I've ever had outside of Korea. I am always in search of good chajang. Myun is "noodles" in Korean which is similar to "mein" in Chinese. I have no idea what Chajang means. Joseph also had the best shrimp and peanuts ever. There was also fried eggplant with meat served with a spicy powder for dipping, veggies, chinese plums the size of gingko nuts, cucumber, etc. Let me say that JJ ate A LOT!!! LOTS O' NOODLES! Poor kid. When we get home he will have LOTS O' RICE! Noodles are a pain to make. LOL.

We rolled out of lunch and onto to the zoo. Turned out that JJ has been to the zoo with his school. We saw lots of field trip classes with all the kids in all ages and sizes dressed in matching warm up suits. Pretty funny. It's this way in Korea, too. And more flags and more same-colored hats.

I hate zoos. Hate Them. Animals, cages, imprisonment, all manner of unnatural things. I get so upset! I was doing pretty well until we walked into the lion exhibit and saw the first concrete cell. Back outside in a hurry. I was So. Upset!

Then we found out there was an aquarium!! I love aquariums!!! I love the fishes. But the Coral and Jellyfish exhibits are my favorites. JJ was more interested in the sharks. And Joseph's mother was noticing all the Fish Lips! LOL!!

We saw the dolphin show which was kinda dull because they only spoke Chinese and the animals only did a few tricks. I am sure the moderator was telling jokes because the audience was laughing. Even MGF Lilly. But I didn't think it was so funny.

Then off to the gift shop. Note to self: Never get Green Tea Gelato in China. And there were NO HATS OR T-SHIRTS!!! What kinda aquarium doesn't have hats and shirts??? Whatever. JJ picked out a snow globe with a light for himself. He loves anything that lights up. So funny.

Afterwards we went to some very famous and delicious seafood restaurant with MGF Lilly and HerGF (didn't get the name - Chinese) and we had the best, most interesting, delicious, formal-ish Chinese dinner ever in the world. How's that for a superlative??

We had a live lobster. Sashimi. Yup. Came to the table wiggling. Got taken back to be put into our soup. Gives new meaning to the word "fresh.". Yup. Yup yup yup. And the look on Joseph's mothers, JJ's and my friend H's face was priceless. PRICE. LESS. That alone made the whole thing worth it. And if the lobster knew, he would have been glad to give his life in such an inhumane and tortured way, just so that we could get the priceless looks on their faces. Ahem. Yup.

We also had fresh steamed fish, lots of veggies - and none of them stir fried! Short ribs. Sashimi. Tofu with crab and corn. (YUMMY). More tofu. More fish. Things you can't get outside of Beijing! Lobster soup. (Poor Lobster.) A Korean-ish salad with some red beans. Eggplant and bokchoy still sizzling. More and more.

At dinner, JJ told us that he smoked, drank, and had all the cola he wanted while he was at the orphanage. Yah. All that just to get a coke with dinner, which he did not!

Ok. That's it for the sightseeing portion. When we got back to the fang jin (room), JJ was trying to tell us something. He kept pointing to the dictionary that Yili (rhymes with Lilly) gave us. He kept repeating, going from me to baba who was at the computer. With his lisp and our limited Chinese, you can just imagine. Anyway, Joe looked up a word, played it on the computer, and JJ started clapping and saying "Dui dui dui" (right right eight). Turns out he was asking "how do you use the dictionary?" It also turns out he was just asking us because MGF Lilly found out he already knows how to use it. Whatever.

The thing we noted was his persistence, his ability to understand and adapt. The way he is so patient without getting frustrated in the least. And his happiness when we, his mama and baba, can understand him. We hit the jackpot, I think.

Oh and it was the day that he told me he loves me.

Tomorrow is another day.

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Frogger

The Observation of the Day is all about the driving and the roads. First, going through business districts, there are 8-lane roads. On the outside, closest to the sidewalk is a bike lane that is the size of a regular car lane. Next to that is the bus/trolley lane. Everything is great until the bus pulls over at a bus stop , which is in the bike lane, to let people on and off and cuts off all the bikers in the bike lane and all the bikers have to come to a slamming halt. It's a bit hair-raising to the westerner but the Chinese take it in stride. It's kinda funny to watch.

Then next to the bus lane is anywhere from 2 to 4 car lanes. And we are not talking about a highway. We are talking about a downtown street - one of many just like this. Unlike India, all the lanes are clearly marked and in fact, even appear to be freshly painted - that bright white! People in China drive in the lanes better than do in India (an understatement to be sure).

There is a metal fencing barrier that is about 3-ft high in the middle that separates the lanes going in the other direction. This is the median.

There are hardly any cross walks, not even at the traffic corners, and people just walk out in the middle of this traffic and stand on the white line and scurry lane to lane. And even if you were in the cross walk, the cars don't stop; it only means there is an opening through the fencing so you do not have to step over.

Crossing the street is like a game of Frogger. I'm surprised we haven seen anyone squashed! In the US, everyone trying this would be killed and you'd have enough lawsuits to drain the Federal Reserve. But here, common sense seems to be a personal responsibility and lack of judgment is not tolerated. At one point Joe decided to be Chinese, stepped out in front of traffic with our son in tow - *GAH!* - and managed to stop 3 lanes of traffic. I quickly followed. And the cars started honking AT ME!! Jeez!

At another point when we were lost in the taxi going back to the hotel from dinner, the driver sort of pulled over to the side of one of these "super roads" and the cars just went whizzing by us. No one honked and no one slowed down.

Oh and there are no breakdown lanes. The roads are flush with the sidewalk and the metal fencing. Of course in the neighborhoods, there are sidewalks which are surprisingly wide. Wide enough for at least 3 people which goes with my earlier comment about how fit everyone seems to be.
One day we passed by a big accident. No one slowed down to gawk so the traffic kept moving quickly.

The other side observation is that the Chinese here Know. How. To. Drive. Imagine. A country filled with Asian Drivers and they can drive well! Seriously. Not many Americans could drive here. Cars squeeze by with an inch of room on either side. It's so smooth it reminds me of a dance. Makes me wonder where all those Asian driver jokes came from! LOL!

And the bikers give new meaning to "riding in traffic.". They are everywhere. All ages, even very old! Some of the bikes have 3 wheels and a cargo on the pack which usually piled high 6 ft tall with "stuff in sacks." And not a single fancy bike among them - they are all old and gray, which of course, might be attributed to the gray smog that covers everything. And not a single helmet! Cars and bike co-exist quite nicely!

There are also these "sky bridges" for pedestrians along the busiest street so people can safely cross the street. Of course, that doesn't seem to stop the occasional game of Frogger.


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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Whoa! What a whirlwind!

Zao shang hao!

That's good morning. "Watch your tones," as Li Laoshi says. You might be insulting someone.

Yesterday was a whirlwind. Lilly (why are all Chinese women I know named Lilly?) had arranged a car service to drive us around. What a Godsend! It was large enough to hold all 6 of us comfortably. And since we were the only family in Beijing, we would have had to find our own transportation around anyway. And the fact is that all of the taxis around here hold 3 people. Three small people. And that includes the front seat.

We started out at Olympic Village and had plans to go to the Beijing Zoo in the afternoon. You know. Because I like seeing other creatures in cages. Yah.

Anyway, we arrived a Olympic village about 30 minutes away from the hotel. It is pretty wild. It was in the making for about 5 or 6 years for the Olympics and just to impress the world. The TV version was much more piaoliang (beautiful) with all the colored lights, etc. The Bird's Nest was huge. The best view is from the 5th floor. The hooks that carried the torch lighter were still there. And it really does look like a giant bird's nest!

We saw the Water Cube. In Chinese it means Water Beautiful Place - or Beautiful Water Place. Sounds much better than the Water Cube. LOL. We did not go inside. I mean, see one pool, you see them all. Sort of like the Bird's Nest - see one stadium, see them all... And we walked by the Gymnasium where the basketball games, etc., were played. Yet another big cubish building...

There is a 5-star hotel that is comprised of 4 separate buildings. From the side, it looks like a dragon. It's called 7 Stars for the Big Dipper. Bill Gates stayed there. We are not. :o)

The plaza that all of this is contained in is HUGE. But everything here is huge.

And of course, Joseph and JJ pao bu (ran) around the inside and outside of the Bird's Nest. And just about everywhere else to inaugurate their collaboration as a father-son team. I saw my future before me.

Then onto lunch and the zoo. But when we got to the car, the driver said that Lilly (the other one who was our guide) called and we were to do paperwork in the afternoon. Susan, our original guide would meet us at 1 in the hotel lobby. So back to the hotel. It takes about 30-45 minutes to get anywhere in China. This was longer due to a broken down trolley line that blocked 4 lanes of traffic. (Remind me to tell you about the roads here).

We stopped down the road from the hotel for lunch at a steamed dumpling place. OMG. Mayhem. Everything was in Chinese. No one spoke English. Thank God my Good Friend Lilly was there. We were going to order tofu but the fermented egg on top sort of derailed that. But the steamed buns and the wonton soup were some of the best I've had. We were told to eat more because in a while we would be hungry. LOL. And it was so CHEAP!!!

After lunch, Joseph, JJ, and I scooped up our pile o' paperwork and followed Susan the Guide all over town. This meant I missed yet another day of shopping. And MGF Lilly took Mom and Harriet so I could have bought good stuff cheap! :o/ I gave her a list. :o)

Thank goodness we ended up with our driver that Lilly hired for us. There is nothing like having your own droiver. We first went to the ministry office. Oops, wrong place. We did that the other day. Then back to the Marriage Registration office where one of the screaming women was MUCH nicer today. We received our official certification from the government in a red document holder stating that we are approved by China as a family.

Interesting observation: there was only one other couple there, presumably to get a marriage license. He was about 65 yo. She was about 25 yo. Uhhhh... Hmmmmm. They had each hit the Jackpot in their own way.

Then it was off to the notary office where we proofed some document copies and then waited for a while. This was like no other notary I've ever been to! The Notary Official finally came in with 5 copies of 3 separate documents each in binders with the glue still wet. Yup. Glue. Not staples. We proofed each one. Then we were office to the Police and Immigration office.

There we met Teacher Yuan again, JJ's case worker. We got JJ's passport photo made (bypassing the line). And then Joseph and I sat while Teacher Yuan and our Guide ran to and fro, coming back with receipts after we gave them fees, until it was all done. At one point, I said to Susan the Guide how amazing it was to bypass lines and she responded that Teacher Yuan is very good. I said that she must be very important and Susan didn't respond. Which, of course, tells me that, yes, she is VERY important.

Then back to the hotel. The Chinese passport for JJ will be ready Friday morning.

For dinner, we met our friend Yili (sounds like Lilly, doesn't it? Yah.) at the most important, best, and most famous hard-to-get-into Peking Duck restaurant in our very own private room. There was a glass wall that looked out onto a small stage where they had an acrobatic/magic show.

The restaurant is on the edge of a lake that has rows of shops and restaurants around it. The first was a Starbucks. Ahem. Anyway, there was so much delicious food. I had mandarin fish for the first time since I was a small girl in Korea. And a variety of tofu dishes you can't find at home. Veggies and noodles and shrimp... And the Peking Duck - they brought the whole thing and carved it in front of us. And the pancakes were paper thin. 3 of them were the thickness of one at home. Each duck is numbered and they present the number in an official certificate to us. Our duck was number 15,415.

Then back to the hotel in a taxi. We had released the driver so we took two cabs home. Our cab took a wrong turn. ARG! And we were so tired!!! So MGF Lilly scolded the driver, took out a map and we finally got back to the hotel. Chinese women are funny when they are irritated.

The Observation of the Day was all about the air quality. There truly is a gray pall that hangs over the city. It makes everything look gray, even the beautiful buildings. And there are a LOT of smokers. By mid-day, I was having trouble breathing, my throat and sinus was scratchy, and my eyes were burning. The government heats coal. Coal is cheap.

The other thing we learned is that the government shuts off the heat so in the mornings everything is cold. They turn it on during certain times so our hotel is cold in the morning. Amazing.

And every government building has the Chinese flag on it - either as the flag flying in front or on the building itself on a plaque replica. Did not know that.

At one point I asked our guide if JJ knew he was an orphan and what this paperwork means. And so, she asked him. And he nodded his head and said, yes, it means he has a family now.

Today we are going to cram in the Summer Palace, the Zoo, and the Temple of Heaven. MGF Lilly and I think it will take an hour. Yili thought we're crazy. But what is there to see??? A buncha animals in cages! Breaks my heart!!! Of course there are the pandas but they are usually in their den. Huh. Better to see them through the webcam at the National Zoo in DC!

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